Amid Mediterranean crossings, UN urges safety for refugees
The United Nations refugee agency on Friday stressed the need to find durable solutions for those making the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean, as it reported that the Italian navy had rescued some 6,000 people who had set out from Libya in overcrowded boats over the past four days alone.
"The Mediterranean is one of the busiest seaways in the world, as well as a dangerous frontier for many asylum-seekers trying to find safety in Europe," Melissa Fleming, a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told reporters in Geneva.
She said those rescued off the shores of Sicily and Calabria from more than 40 boats included large numbers of women and children, among them newborns and unaccompanied children. They had set off from Zwara in Libya, and many were fleeing violence, conflict and persecution. Most of them came originally from Syria, Eritrea, Somalia, Nigeria, Gambia, Mali and Senegal.
Fleming noted that protecting refugees travelling irregularly by sea in search of safety, often with people moving for other reasons, is a complex challenge.
"UNHCR continues to urge States to work together to rescue people at sea at the same time as looking for alternative legal channels to prevent people from having to make these dangerous journeys in the first place."
The agency also stressed the need for sufficient capacity and adequate reception facilities to receive rescued asylum-seekers and migrants.
"Additional reception facilities and assistance in processing arrivals, as well as identifying durable solutions for them, could be established with support from the European Union," said Fleming. "UNHCR is ready to work with governments and other partners to identify longer-term solutions in response to the current situation."
Since the Italian Government set up the rescue operation Mare Nostrum in October 2013, following tragic shipwrecks in which over 600 people died, more than 20,000 people have been rescued at sea.
The number arriving by sea in Italy this year is now some 18,000 people, UNHCR noted. Almost 43,000 people arrived in 2013; Syrians fleeing the violence in their country were the largest group, with over 11,300 arrivals.
(Posted on 12-04-2014)